Watch out, Washington DC. Colonial Williamsburg can be just as much of a mecca for political enthusiasts—because it started here.
If you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of time paying attention to politics. You have an entire Feedly category called “politics” and you are one of the only people who actually looks at the politics trending tab on Facebook (did you even know that existed?). You turn on more than one cable news network on election nights to watch the results come on while simultaneously obsessively refreshing official election results online. Your Twitter feed is 95 percent politics. You watch C-SPAN for pleasure. You live for what’s happening in your statehouse and in Washington. Let me show you how you can have an authentic political experience unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else.
TAKE A TOUR OF THE CAPITOL
We all know the story. In 1607, men from Great Britain established the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown. There, in 1619, the first form of representative government in North America, the Virginia House of Burgesses, was created. In 1699, the capital was moved to Williamsburg and with that move came the burgesses. Our Capitol building is the third to be constructed on that exact site, as two fires destroyed the others. Here, you will learn about the House of Burgesses and the famous events that took place on that ground, including Virginia declaring its independence on May 15, 1776. The FIRST colony to do so. I highly encourage you to take more than one tour, as you’ll never have the same experience twice!
TAKE A TOUR OF THE PEYTON RANDOLPH HOUSE
Peyton Randolph’s list of political endeavors is extensive. He was Speaker of the House of Burgesses before it was dissolved by Lord Dunmore and on May 30, 1774, 25 burgesses met at the Randolph house to schedule a state convention in order to discuss the proposed ban on English goods. Randolph also served as Chairman of the Continental Congress and used his level-headedness to keep Virginians calm when Dunmore took the gunpowder from the Magazine. Peyton Randolph unfortunately died in Philadelphia in October of 1775 and did not witness America declaring and ultimately gaining its independence.
P.S. The house is totally haunted, so that’s a bonus!
TAKE A TOUR OF THE GEORGE WYTHE HOUSE
George Wythe is known as the first Virginian to sign the Declaration of Independence and the first American law professor when Thomas Jefferson, then governor of Virginia, urged the founding of a school of law at William & Mary. Jefferson was one of Wythe’s students and the pair formed an unbreakable bond. Wythe was also a member of the House of Burgesses and even served as Attorney General when Peyton Randolph left Williamsburg (he resigned his post once Randolph returned). When you walk through the home, you’ll see the exact spot where Wythe taught Jefferson and others, and be sure to stand near the windows so you can see a special educational tool you wouldn’t think twice about. Fun fact: George Wythe was likely murdered by his grandnephew in Richmond.
VISIT THE RALEIGH TAVERN
Unfortunately, tours are not offered at the Raleigh Tavern at this time, but Colonial Williamsburg does have several programs that take place inside the building. Your chance of being “in the room where it happened” (hi, Hamilton lovers!) right now is to see one of these incredible programs, so you get an extra treat! Several of the biggest names in early American politics stepped foot in the tavern, including George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and on and on. It was where the burgesses went after they were dissolved twice (once in 1769 by Lord Botetourt and again in 1774 by Lord Dunmore) and some of the most heated debates during our fight for independence bounced off the walls. I always get this incredible sense of power when I go in the tavern. You can just feel the amount of history in the air.
HAVE A PUBLIC AUDIENCE WITH A FOUNDING FATHER
Have a conversation with the men who led our country to its independence and made some of the most important decisions this Commonwealth and Nation would ever see. Men like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington, and Patrick Henry will introduce themselves to you and then take questions. Hear their thoughts on the goings on in Virginia and how they made some of the choices they did. It’s always someone new every day, so be sure to ask for more information on who will be speaking that day as you plan which programs you want to see.
PARTICIPATE IN A PUBLIC PROTEST
Taxes, tyranny, and outrage! Come, join with the citizens of this fair city as they gather to protest the most recent abuses leveled at America by our Parliament. Defend the most sacred right of free-born men: Liberty! This is your chance to be part of the action and publicly air your grievances with King George III. Keep your eyes peeled. You never know who may be standing beside you shouting about the injustices!
STORM THE PALACE
On April 20, 1775, the day after shots were fired at Lexington and Concord and the American Revolution would begin, Lord Dunmore had his men sneak into the Magazine and steal gunpowder. The people of Williamsburg were furious! We re-enact the moment Virginians demanded an audience with the governor to get to the bottom of the debacle, and you can join the cause. March with the Militia down Palace Green toward the governor’s home. Peyton Randolph makes an appearance. Will he be able to speak with Dunmore?
DECLARE INDEPENDENCE FROM BRITAIN
To cap off your incredible political journey through Williamsburg, meet at the Capitol and join us as we declare our independence from Britain once and for all. In To Be Free and Independent, you’ll witness this critical moment in history as Virginia becomes the first colony to declare independence. What will happen to the colonists? What does this mean for Virginians and Williamsburg?
You’ll find Colonial Williamsburg is a political junkie’s dream. What better way to learn about American politics than to witness the start of our government firsthand?